10 years on, Hrant Dink murder case still lingering

10 years on, Hrant Dink murder case still lingering

10 years on, Hrant Dink murder case still lingering

DHA photo

Thousands flocked onto the streets of Şişli on Jan. 19 to commemorate Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink on the 10th anniversary of his assassination amid little progress in shining a light on the alleged network behind the decade-old crime.

Dink was shot dead with three bullets on Jan. 19, 2007, at around 3 p.m. in front of the apartment where Turkish-Armenian weekly newspaper Agos’s main office was located on the Halaskargazi Street of the Şişli district in central Istanbul. 

One of Turkey’s most notorious and long-lasting legal sagas began with the capture of the triggerman, 17-year-old high-school dropout Ogün Samast, a couple of days after the murder. 

Samast, who had arrived in Istanbul from the Black Sea province of Trabzon to commit the assassination, was among the 18 suspects who were involved in the murder and were tried in the initial Dink case that began in 2007. 

While Samast and Yasin Hayal, who was convicted of being the main instigator of the assassination, were sentenced to aggravated life terms five years after the assassination in 2012, other suspects were given different sentences. 

As Samast was under 18 at the time when he shot Dink, his sentence was commuted and his final release date was set as 2022. 

Hayal’s case was more complicated, as his intention to have Dink shot was previously known to police, according to a 2006 report. He was also convicted and jailed for carrying out an attack targeting a fast-food restaurant of McDonald’s in Trabzon in 2004 due to the fact that it was selling food during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. 

Dink had attracted the anger of ultranationalists due to his writings, especially after he was convicted of violating Article 301 on insults to “Turkishness.”

Another suspect in the case, Erhan Tuncel, who was an intelligence officer with the Trabzon police and was acquitted of charges related to Dink, said during his trial that he informed Trabzon intelligence about Hayal’s plot to have Dink killed in 2005. He also said he attempted to inform police about a plot against Dink but did not receive a response. Tuncel is still a suspect in the ongoing Dink case but is being tried without arrest.

While the Dink case was continuing at the Istanbul 14th Court of Serious Crimes, the family of Dink appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2010 without exhausting domestic legal avenues. Making an exception for the Dink case, the ECHR ruled that in the trial of the case, public officials had not been probed effectively, paving the way for legal proceedings against these officials that might have played role in the murder.

In 2012 Dink family appealed to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in 2014 that there had been a rights violation in the earlier legal proceedings into the murder.   

In May 2013, the Supreme Court of Appeals also reversed the judgement of the Istanbul 14th Court of Serious Crimes and ruled that the murder was committed as part of an organized act. The family also applied to the Istanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office for the prosecution of key public officials and offices that might have played role in the killing, such as the Trabzon Police Department, the Gendarmerie and the Istanbul Governor’s Office. 

After years of failed efforts, another breakthrough decision was given by Istanbul prosecutors, who in late 2014, seven years after the killing, opened a new probe against a number of public officials.

In January 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeals ruled to combine the files on the main murder case, as well as a separate case into public officials’ alleged negligence to prevent the killing of Dink. In April 2016, 26 public employees appeared in a hearing for the first time in connection with the case.

Some key official suspects in the case included former police intelligence bureau chief Ramazan Akyürek, former police intelligence bureau C branch head Ali Fuat Yılmazer and former Istanbul police head Celalettin Cerrah.  

Akyürek, one of the two arrested suspects in the ongoing case, was the Trabzon police chief when Hayal plotted the murder. When Dink was murdered, he was the police intelligence bureau chief and reportedly received documents about the plot against Dink but said they did not believe it necessary to inform the Istanbul governor at the time, Muammer Güler, or any other institution. 

Cerrah, who was Istanbul police chief at the time of the murder, said he did not see a report about the plot against Dink. But contrary to his testimony, Yılmazer said he was told by Cerrah to destroy a report that arrived at his office from Trabzon. Cerrah denied the charges. 

Noting that the killing was planned in Trabzon before being committed in Istanbul, Yılmazer said Dink was murdered due to a lack of measures that should have been taken in Istanbul. He said officials in Istanbul had a duty to bring Dink under protection like Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who was given security protection and who, like Dink, was tried under the notorious Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code against “insulting Turkishness.” 

After the July 2016 coup attempt, the Dink case gained new momentum as the former prosecutor in the case, Gökalp Kökçü, was reassigned to the probe. 

Amid the continuing legal saga, thousands filled the streets of Şişli to commemorate Dink. 

Speaking at a ceremony from Agos’ former building, the journalist’s widow, Rakel Dink, recalled the deadly attacks that had occurred since Dink’s murders. 

“A nightmare engulfed the country. People become afraid and have been left unable to breath … Pride was broken and humiliated. It is like a mother gave birth to her children to bury them,” she said. “It seems that the perpetrator of this killing [Dink] is the state with all its levels of institutions. Now let’s come together and lift the fear of pigeons in this country. Let’s come together and not kill pigeons. Like my çutak [violin] said, let’s first understand each other and respect each other’s sorrow.”  

The journalist had famously said not long before his killing that he felt like a vulnerable pigeon, while expressing quiet confidence that “they don’t kill pigeons in this country.”

Some political figures have also released statements and notes to commemorate the murder of Dink.

Opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş wrote a letter for Dink, saying, “In the past 10 years, we unfortunately could not bring our country to a place that is livable and free. Therefore we are shy in front of Hrant but we never kneel down.” 

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu also shared a tweet saying that “with a hope that brotherhood, equality and justice prevails in Turkey, I respectfully commemorate Hrant Dink who was murdered 10 years ago today.” 

The U.S. Embassy to Turkey also shared a tweet for the occasion, saying, “Ten years ago today the prominent journalist, editor and columnist Hrant Dink was assassinated in Istanbul. We will always remember his message of peace, reconciliation and respect for human rights.”